Dr. Aubry, co-chair of the Canadian Housing First Network Community of Interest, was invited as a panelist at the Consultation Meeting of the National Housing Council on the National Housing Strategy. This meeting took place on May 2, 2022.
Dr. Aubry's opening statement is available here:
Thank you for the invitation to participate in this consultation. I am a community mental health researcher and the focus of my work has been on the development of effective community supports including housing for people with severe mental illness. I was involved in the At Home / Chez Soi demonstration project as a member of the National Research Team.
Given my background, my interest is particularly related to the reduction of people who are chronically homeless. The National Housing Strategy targeted a 50% reduction in chronically homelessness over a 10-year period. At this point, based on PIT counts and the shelter data that I have seen, I don’t see us as having made much progress towards meeting this goal.
I believe that a major reason behind this lack of progress is the lack of direction in the NHS of how chronic homelessness was going to be tackled. A new and revised federal homelessness initiative, called Reaching Home, was launched in 2018 that included a doubling of funding. A major change that came in with Reaching Home was the removal of the requirement for communities to spend a portion of funding that they received on Housing First.
This requirement was brought into the previous federal homelessness initiative in 2014 in response to the findings of the At Home / Chez Soi project that demonstrated the effectiveness of Housing First in ending chronic homelessness. It was shown to be far superior to the standard services in place. These findings have been replicated elsewhere in the US and in European countries.
The NHS is very explicit that it will be left up to communities to decide what measures will be taken to address chronic homelessness. In my view, the result of this significant shift in the federal homelessness initiative is that the development of new Housing First programs has stalled across the country.
Instead, we are seeing the continuation and even the expansion of treatment first programming that produce inferior results when compared to Housing First.
There are a number of elements in the NHS that are in line with adopting a Housing First strategy to address chronic homelessness - including the Right to Housing, the creation of new affordable housing, and the Canadian Housing Benefit.
So my main suggestion to the National Housing Council for improving the NHS is to bring back into the federal homelessness initiative - Housing First as a funded and central strategy for ending chronic homelessness.
Over the last couple of years, Finland has received a lot of media attention because of it being the first Western industrial country on track to end homelessness – they are projecting that this will happen in 2027.
They have invested heavily in the creation of affordable housing but they are also very clear that they have adopted a national Housing First strategy to go with this significant growth in affordable housing.
During the question and answer period, Dr. Aubry also emphasized that provincial ministries of health need to be brought into the NHS, as simply creating affordable housing will not solve chronic homelessness. The NHS also needs to focus on the resourcing of community supports to go with the all the new housing.